A warehouse full of Snowflakes

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and reports editor, DataIQ

In an interview with DataIQ, chief executive Bob Muglia described Snowflake as, “a data warehouse company that is revolutionising the way people work with data,” and added that, “there is an insatiable desire for organisations to work with more data.”  With his data-warehouse-as-a-service or DWaaS product, Muglia said he is helping companies to operate on massive amounts of data in ways they never could before.

Bob Muglia, SnowflakeIn the past, working with data had been hard because of legacy systems and it was difficult “to tame these beasts,” he said. The data would be in silos and, for some companies, it would take weeks to be able to locate it all.

He explained to an audience of 350 data professionals that Snowflake was set up to help companies take advantage of the cloud. Its founders could see the potential of creating a data warehouse for the cloud as it is “an infinite resource of storage and compute,” said Muglia.

According to Muglia, Snowflake has distinct advantages over on-premise solutions in that it is manageable, affordable, can handle many users and many types of data. He elaborated that, unlike databases of the past, Snowflake does not require “data gurus” to act as gatekeepers. He said: “People just load the data and run queries,” making it affordable because users only pay for what they use “at cloud economies of scale.”

The solution can be used for predictive analytics, data-driven applications, business intelligence or reporting, as well as data exploring. It can also handle different types of data, including JSON and XML. “Centralised storage of data is accessible by any user and application,” said Muglia. He explained that it is secure by design because of embedded multi-factor authentication and there is also federated authentication available. Data stored on disk and online is always encrypted.

Muglia was keen to stress that Snowflake is a customer-oriented business and has the motto, “we succeed when our customers succeed.” These customers range in size from new start-ups to multi-million dollar enterprises, like Sony, Adobe and Nielsen, as well as Experian, Hotel Tonight, FitBit and the Kraft Group.

The chief executive has been working in technology since the 1970s and first worked with a relational database on a Z80 microcomputer. Having spent the majority of his career at Microsoft from 1988 to 2011, Muglia was looking for a new challenge when he moved to Juniper Networks. He thought he would be able to build a business within the marketing networks company, but, by the time he joined, Juniper had stopped growing. “After a couple of years, it was apparent that it was time to move on and do something different,” he said.

He spent time thinking about where he might want to work and his mind settled on something related to the cloud, which was revolutionising the way business worked. However, at the same time, he was worried about the ability of large enterprise technology companies like HP, Dell or EMC to make that transition. 

That led to a recognition that the most interesting things were happening in small companies. “So I sought out a company that was doing something very revolutionary in a meaningful industry that they had a viable business model.” Through the venture capitalist Sutter Hill, he was connected to Snowflake founders Benoit Dageville, Thierry Cruanes and Marcin Zukowski. 

“Our founders talked to me about the architecture that they were building. It really became apparent to me that this was something very unique and different and that’s what made me fall in love with what they were doing and so join the team,” he said. Muglia added that the fact that they were great people sweetened the deal - he joined as chief executive in mid-2014.

Up against the “big boys”, namely Amazon, Microsoft and Google, which are “1,000-times bigger,” he feels the vendor can compete because Snowflake is not “simply repacking technology that these other companies have,” but is doing something unique and different.

An issue Snowflake now faces is scaling.“We are growing so fast that maintaining a consistent culture, keeping the values, scaling effectively, not making mistakes as we do it is our biggest challenge,” he accepted.

The vision is certainly global, with conferences planned for eight US cities in the coming days and a plan to move into Australia later this year and Asia after that. The trend towards data analytics is one of the most important at the moment and the company seems to be in the right place to carry that forward. Said Muglia: “There is an insatiable desire for organisations to work with more data - we are uniquely, well-positioned to help companies do that.”